This time last week, Belarus looked as though it was in the throes of a popular uprising. Huge crowds thronged the streets of Minsk and other cities, protesting about an election that gave every impression of having been stolen. Within days, factory workers came out on strike in what was starting to resemble a classic, 1917-style revolution.
The supposed victor in the election, Alexander Lukashenko, who has occupied the presidency for 26 years, was looking and sounding increasingly desperate. Restrictions on free assembly and free speech seemed to be in abeyance. The riot police – initially so ruthless – had gone home or changed sides. Parts of Lukashenko’s support system seemed to be cracking. The opposition candidate, Svetlana Tikhanovskaya, who had escaped to neighbouring Lithuania the day after the election, announced a committee to prepare a transition.
Now, Lukashenko appears to be retrenching. He has warned people against returning to the streets (though some have) and factory strikers have been dismissed. Riot police are back (with newly awarded medals and bonuses), and approaches to the state media centre – key to any modern-day revolution – have been blocked. At best, Belarus looks set for a period of political stalemate. At worst, for a new crackdown on dissent.
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